recently, other organizations concerned with the nation’s science and technology enterprise, such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Technology Education Association, have called for Americans to become more technologically savvy (AAAS, 1990; ITEA, 1996). More recently, ITEA proposed standards related to technological understanding and capabilities for K–12 students (ITEA, 2000). And just a few years ago, the case for technological literacy was outlined in Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology, a report from the National Academies (NAE and NRC, 2002).

How Technologically Literate Are We?

Against this background, the question naturally arises about the level of technological literacy in the American public. Most experts who have thought about the issue in depth agree that people in this country are not as technologically literate as they should be; but this is a general impression with little hard data to back it up. Unfortunately, no good measures of technological literacy are being used in the United States today. A small number of organizations and individuals—including some outside this country—have developed a variety of tests and surveys to try to get a handle on what people know or believe about technology, but most of these efforts have either been short lived or have failed to provide the kind of data necessary for drawing useful conclusions about technological literacy.

The lack of information about technological literacy contrasts sharply with the amount of information about literacy in other subject areas. For example, adults’ understanding of science has been assessed for almost three decades in surveys published biennially in Science and Engineering Indicators (e.g., NSB, 2004). Scientific knowledge and understanding among K–12 students are evaluated in a variety of standardized tests and by the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In addition, student achievement is regularly tested in other school subjects, such as mathematics, English, and history. So why not test for technology literacy?

Part of the answer is historical. Until recently, educators and policy makers did not consider technology as separate from science.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement